Category Archives: Shakespeare


(Aryssa Damron’s article appeared in the Yale University College Fix, 10/27; via the Drudge Report.)

English majors no longer required to take class focused on Chaucer, Shakespeare

A year and a half after a petition circulated calling for Yale to “decolonize the English department,” the first students are enrolled in a new course created by the department to increase the breadth of the curriculum and combat claims of departmental racism.

What’s more, new requirements are in place to ensure a more “diversified” slate of courses.

Previous requirements for the major included two courses in “Major English Poets,” including Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton and Eliot, among others. But that two-course series petitioners had deemed actively harmful due to its focus on white male poets. The series is no longer a graduation requirement for Yale’s English majors.

The petition, a Google document which has since been made private, critiqued the perceived whiteness of the English department requirements: “A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity.”

“It’s time for the English major to decolonize — not diversify — its course offerings,” the petition added. “A 21st century education is a diverse education: we write to you today inspired by student activism across the university, and to make sure that you know that the English department is not immune from the collective call to action.”

Nearly a year after the petition, around seven months ago, Yale’s English faculty voted to “diversity” the curriculum. At the time of the vote, the director of the department’s undergraduate studies, Jessica Brantley, told The Yale Daily News: “We’ve constructed a curriculum that has inclusion as its goal, embedded in the structures of its requirements, and I’m very excited to implement and develop that curriculum further.”

The reconfiguring of the English department’s required courses did not directly address the demands of the petition to do away with the Major English Poets sequences altogether; the courses still exist. The reconfiguration also did not refocus the program’s pre-1800 and pre-1900 literature requirement to address issues of race, gender, and sexuality as demanded by the petition.

Instead, the English department now allows students to fill three required prerequisites from a choice of four different courses: Readings in English Poetry 1, Readings in English Poetry 2, Readings in American Literature, and a newly created course, Readings in Comparative World English Literature.

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(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

Two literary scholars discuss Shakespeare’s influence on the politics, history, and literary culture of East Africa. 

Edward Wilson-Lee, the son of white wildlife conservationists, spent his childhood in Kenya and now teaches Shakespeare at the University of Cambridge in England. Over the past few years he has spent extended periods back in Kenya, as well as in Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and South Sudan, researching his book, Shakespeare in Swahililand

Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o, the renowned Kenyan playwright, novelist, dissident, and social activist, grew up in Kenya when it was still a British colony and is now a Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. His most recent work is the memoir Birth of a Dream Weaver

Ngũgĩ and Edward were interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

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Photos (top to bottomg)

Edward Wilson-Lee: YouTube 

Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o: Face2Face Africa


(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 82

How do actors breathe life into Shakespeare’s texts? How do they take language that’s centuries old and make it sound so real and immediate?

Barry Edelstein, the Erna Finci Viterbi Artistic Director at The Old Globe in San Diego, is one of the nation’s most experienced Shakespeare directors. Twice a year, The Old Globe holds an event called Thinking Shakespeare Live! – a master class where you get to watch actors act and Edelstein direct – in essence, pulling back the curtain on the rehearsal room.

In this podcast episode, Edelstein works with Barbara Bogaev to go through a very abbreviated version of Thinking Shakespeare Live!

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Photo: La Times


(Andrew R. Chow’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/5; via Pam Green.)

Is a screening of a play just as powerful as the play itself? The Royal Shakespeare Company plans to use heart monitors to try to find the answer.

Starting Wednesday night, the company is to monitor the heart rates of 10 selected audience members at its blood-soaked production of “Titus Andronicus” in Stratford-upon-Avon, and then do the same for a cinema screening of the production in August. The theater’s aim is to measure the emotional experience of each viewing method and explore whether Shakespeare still shocks modern audience members, who are perhaps desensitized to violence onscreen.

Becky Loftus, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s head of audience insight, said that “Titus Andronicus” lends itself particularly well to this experiment, given the intensity of scenes showing the title character Titus’s hand being chopped off and the aftermath of the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, another character.

Continue reading the main story


William Shakespeare. Portrait of William Shakespeare 1564-1616. Chromolithography after Hombres y Mujeres celebres 1877, Barcelona Spain

(Stephen Greenblatt’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 7/10-7/17; via Pam Green.)

What “The Merchant of Venice” taught me about ethnic hatred and the literary imagination.

I attended university in a very different world from the one in which I now teach and live. For a start, Yale College, which I entered in 1961, was all male. Women were not matriculated until five years after I had received my B.A. degree. Among the undergraduates, there were only a handful of students from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and very few African-Americans, Asian-Americans, or Hispanics, unless one counted a couple of prep-school-educated heirs to grand South American fortunes.

The Yale that I attended was overwhelmingly North American and white, as well as largely Protestant. It was difficult for the admissions office to identify Catholics, but applicants with conspicuously Irish, Italian, or Polish names were at a disadvantage. For Jews, there was a numerus clausus, not even disguised by the convenient excuse of “geographical distribution.” And the whole system was upheld by a significant number of legacies, along with a pervasive air of privilege and clubbiness. To display too much interest in one’s studies or a concern for grades was distinctly uncool. This was still the era of what was called the “gentleman’s C.”

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By Bob Shuman

In his staging of Measure for Measure, from Theatre for a New Audience, now playing at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center until July 16, Simon Godwin takes his time in getting to the Bard. His production opens the problem play (Shakespeare places us in  a decadent Vienna), written circa 1603, with a brothel tour, one curated seriously, as if it’s part of a downtown gallery exhibit (the scenic and costume design is by Paul Wills; the light designer is Matthew Richards).  The director comes at us from a different direction, later, too, by placing the audience in a country-western bar, where an up-and-coming Linda Ronstadt might be singing. (Jane Shaw composed the music and designed the sound; the musicians are Drew Bastian, Robert Cowie, and Osei Essed.)  Whether he is laughing behind our backs or not, trying to prick the bourgeoisie, by letting subscribers peruse, among others, dildos, ben wa balls, S&M masks, handcuffs, and even a Donald Trump sex toy, Godwin is not merely a smooth, hip director. 

He also allows the audience to see the play’s confrontations with serious intellectual intent, as he explores Shakespeare’s scene work, as well as his language and storytelling—asking us to find our way into them, unrushed, almost in the way he might have asked himself and his actors to analyze and interpret during rehearsals.  Unpretentiously, they have found original, defensible characterizations, which may seem completely new.  Notable among them is the work of Thomas J. Ryan, who shows Angelo to be a boring, awkward bureaucrat (he may even be banal and evil)–yet his likes are found in thousands of offices every day—here, the character compulsively grabs for the Purell.  Jonathan Cake is not the partying jock he played as the lead in Antony and Cleopatra at the Public in 2014—now he is paler, a wild aristo before decline, hiding behind glasses that are too big.  Perhaps his character will remind of Hal in  Henry IV, Part 2–a work that is believed to be written earlier than this one, in 1596.   More recently, Prince Harry has stated, relevant to this discussion, that no one in his family really wants to be King, “but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”  That, of course, is the story of  the aforementioned Henry play and Measure for Measure—Cake does play his Duke as a modern British royal, one who is aware of what all his training and position mean (down to where and how to place his feet and hold his hands at the back); he also knows how to find the mellifluous meter of the Bard. Cara Ricketts makes an impressive Isabella because she concentrates on the character’s essence and heart (some consider the character cruel, but does anyone think a nun, the bride of Christ, would enter into the bargain Angelo is asking her to be part of?).

By taking his time with Shakespeare, walking with him and letting him take his own time, Godwin creates new interest in the play, even if he also shows the Bard’s warts and beauty marks.  For example:

  • Information can be repeated (Claudio’s execution)
  • One wonders why there is so much concern with this one criminal and crime, when there must be other, more dangerous activities happening in this depraved city
  • The Duke takes time to act on a problem that he is sympathetic to. Like Glinda in The Wizard of Oz, he could set everything right immediately, but he waits
  • Isabella seems to be allowed to stay away from her convent and keep her own hours, as if there are no internal rules for her order
  • There’s the obvious sexism of the bed trick
  • Among other issues.

Godwin must also deal with the problem of anachronism—Mariana (Merritt Janson) is introduced as a modern, independent woman, but, by the end of the play, she contorts into a submissive wife, as does Kate in The Taming of the Shrew or even Katharine Hepburn in many of her star vehicles. Whatever he can’t do to help Measure for Measure, however, Godwin should be commended for creating a true color-blind production.  Actors of different races may be used to show how progressive a company is regarding diversity, often in order to make a political point.  Although a more practical reason may be that actors of different backgrounds can help the audience keep characters straight, Godwin isn’t holding up casting choices as a shield or to telegraph his political correctness.

Perhaps one of the larger problems the director encountered with Measure for Measure, is the fact that the play insists that every character is obstructed and must be hyper-alive to choices that cannot be postponed.  There is no normal in the drama (perhaps this is what the Duke is trying to figure out)—and there is no one who can be identified as normal either (to put the dilemma in terms of Hamlet, there is no Horatio in this play). What was once considered status quo is no longer, as the Austrian laws have changed for the whole citizenry.  Meeting only those living on the edge, the audience may decide the work oddly reflects the current state of the U.S. and the West, whether they are flag-waving or not (and those who see this Measure for Measure will be able to actually do this if they want).  The play is such a perennial for simplified, unnuanced summer stages that viewers may have become inured to its complexities, dissonances, and differences: Measure for Measure, for example, is Shakespeare where a male spends most of the play in disguise. Godwin, treats the work as unusual, intellectual, suitable only for an unusual production, underplayed and stimulating, sexual or not.  

© 2017 by Bob Shuman. All rights reserved.

Visit Theatre for a New Audience:

Press: Blake Zidell at Blake Zidell & Associates, Rachael Shearer.


The Cast


JONATHAN CAKE (Duke Vincentio) 

 KENNETH DE ABREW (Froth/Abhorson/Friar Peter) 

 ZACHARY FINE (Friar Thomas/Elbow/Barnardine, Gentleman). 



JANUARY LAVOY (Mistress Overdone/Escala/Francisca) 







ROBERT COWIE (Music Director/Musician) 

OSEI ESSED (Musician) 


Creative Team

SIMON GODWIN (Director) 

 BRIAN BROOKS (Choreographer) 

PAUL WILLS (Scenic & Costume Designer)

MATTHEW RICHARDS (Lighting Designer)

JANE SHAW (Composer & Sound Designer)

ALISON BOMBER (Voice & Text Coach) 

 ERIC REYNOLDS (Properties Supervision)

JONATHAN KALB (Production Dramaturg) 

MEGAN SCHWARZ DICKERT (Production Stage Manager)


(Kate Feldman’s article appeared in the Daily News, 6/11; via the Drudge Report.)

Delta Airlines and Bank of America pulled out of their sponsorship of New York’s Public Theater on Sunday over a production of “Julius Caesar” that reimagines the main character as President Trump.

Shortly after Delta, who was a four-year sponsor, made its announcement, Bank of America yanked its support as well.

The Shakespeare in the Park play tells the story of the leader assassinated by Roman senators over the fear that he’s becoming too tyrannical, but rather than the original setting, the production stages Caesar (Gregg Henry) and his wife, Calpurnia, (Tina Benko) with Donald and Melania Trump lookalikes.

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(Aidan McLaughlin’s article appeared on Mediaite, 6/6; via the Drudge Report.)

Shakespeare in the Park, an annual summer program by The Public Theater that puts on plays by William Shakespeare in Central Park, kicked off May 23 with a performance of Julius Caesar.

But this rendition of Shakespeare’s tragedy comes with a twist — Caesar is played by a character that bears a striking resemblance to President Donald Trump.

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Photo: Public Theater


(from World News Daily Report; via Pam Green.) 

London| The team of experts from the auction house Christie’s, have confirmed this morning that a 16th century book found recently in the personnal collection of a recently deceased English Lord, is indeed an authentic printed version of William Shakespeare’s lost play, The History of Cardenio.

The book was discovered last year by employees proceeding to a successorale inventory, after the death of the Sir Humphrey McElroy, a rich baron and antiques collector from Brighton. It was at first treated as a possible fake, but all the analysis that were realized since have suggested otherwise. The authenticity of both the ink and the paper have now been confirmed, and it seems it is indeed, a late 16th print.

The History of Cardenio, often referred to as merely Cardenio, is known to have been performed by the King’s Men, the London theatre company to which William Shakespeare was associated, in 1613. It was attributed to both Shakespeare and John Fletcher (the same collaborator as in The Two Noble Kinsmen) in a Stationers’ Register entry dated of 1653, but no copy of the play had ever been found.

The content of the comedy is based on an episode in Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote involving the character Cardenio, a young man who has been driven mad and lives in the Sierra Morena.

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